The last organized ‘T-shirt’ ride was supposed to be an easy one. The goal this year was to ride the century with a good group and a high average, preferably around 21-22 mph, and finish up around lunchtime.
Last year I attempted the metric and had a couple issues. I followed an old marker and ended up turning back towards Orangeburg too early, finishing with around 45 miles. On the way back I had one of the worst dog encounters ever. I came back because I enjoyed the course and the route was well supported. This is the ideal season capper because of the friendly course and that it comes at a time when the weather is not excruciatingly cold.
Although it was cool in the morning, it was balmy compared to last week. The temperature climbed later, but the high winds kept us cool most of the day. More on those winds later.
We left Orangeburg’s Edisto Memorial Gardens at a decent pace, around 21-22 mph. We were dealing with some winds, but it was not directly in our face. Mostly it was a cross-wind. Sometimes it was heavy and we were careful to keep our bikes steady. At one point I was drinking from my bottle when a gust caught me off guard and almost pushed me into the other lane. We had a few instances like that. Still, we maintained our speed. The miles ticked by quickly. I barely blinked and we were at 10 miles, then 20, then 30, just cruising along.
Things continued to go smoothly as we passed through Ehrhardt, SC and looped around to Rivers Bridge State Park. From there we turned northward, directly into the 18-22 mph wind. It was coming in fierce and chewing us all up. I was in second position as we pushed our way through it. Someone called to regroup, which we did at the next stop sign. To my surprise, I looked back and saw very few people there. The rest of the group limped in, weary and winded. We got our bearings back and pushed along, but problems continued. A friend of mine bonked and took the SAG wagon at the next rest stop. The guy he rode with went with. What was once a large group of 6-8 was all of a sudden down to 4, plus two stragglers who did not help with the pulling.
I felt great at mile 60, not so much by mile 70. Part of that was my fault. I have been in transition mode for the end of the season and have changed my diet and riding habits. I ate a little extra on Friday, but did not go out of my way to get extra carbs. I also didn’t fuel or hydrate as well as I should have during the ride. As a result, my legs were on fire during the tougher, windiest sections of the ride.
I had previously described the course as ‘flat as a pancake,’ which is not altogether accurate. It is more like a poorly cooked pancake with some slopes and bubbles. To our surprise, we ran into a 6% grade on the backside of the state park. That was the only true hill. There were a lot of mini-hills and invisible grades, which usually would not be an issue, but every incline was amplified by the heavy winds.
Thank goodness we had Noah. He is another like-minded mountain goat who lives in Augusta, GA. He’s also extremely tall, around 6’7″, a big body to hide from the wind. He was stronger than the rest of us during those last 30 miles and took the tougher pulls. We were still being torn asunder by the winds even in his wake. I can only imagine how tough it was for him. I took a few pulls, maybe 2 miles at a time, and they chewed me up. My legs practically screamed at the slightest hint of a hill or wind gust, but I tried to soldier on. A couple of times I wondered whether I too would take the SAG wagon, something I have never done before.
We plodded along thanks to Noah and Steve. I was slightly worried when we reached dog alley. The dogs were still there, first a group of two that didn’t give much of a chase, and then a group of about three, one of which was the tenacious, aggressive dog that almost knocked me from my bike last time. They chased for a moment and then backed off. I think the dog was intimidated by our larger group. All of us were making noise or calling out no. The dog feigned a chase and then gave up.
There were a few small hills at the end, which again, hurt like you-know-what. The hills scattered the group again and we lost Noah. No problem. For some odd reason I got a bit of a second wind and was able to muster some more energy. I took a couple pulls, as did Steve and Rhiannon. Even the guy who had drafted behind us for 100 miles pulled for a minute or two of the last mile.
Oddly enough, the ‘easiest’ century turned out to be one of my toughest. I was closer to bonking in Orangeburg than any of the big, epic rides all year. A friend of mine said he would take the mountains over high winds. Cheers to that.
So the season is over and another begins. In the next few days I will begin training to do it all over again.